THROUGH a clever hook-up between ACT Historic Places and the territory’s oldest artists’ organisation, the 1927 Artists Society of Canberra, works by six artists from ASOC are on show in an online exhibition, “Creating Lanyon”.
Initially the idea was for the show to run live in June this year, but it has taken until very recently for the exhibition of paintings, prints and drawings to be posted online.
In the autumn and summer of 2019, even as fires licked at the edges of Canberra, artists Deanna Copeland, Angharad Dean, Vickie Hingston-Jones, Annette Rennie, Linda Tawagi and Judi Power-Thompson, undertook a visual arts residency at the old Nolan Gallery in the Lanyon precinct.
From the point of view of Historic Places, the idea was to explore the gardens and grounds of Lanyon Homestead, responding to the landscape, its built history and stories through visual art.
The project was the brainchild of former ASOC president Hingston-Jones, a volunteer guide at Lanyon who had noticed that the former Nolan Gallery had been in disuse since the collection was removed to the Canberra Museum and Gallery after the 2003 bushfires.
Hingston-Jones used her connections at Lanyon to persuade them that it would be the perfect location for artists to work and commune with natural surroundings.
“It was wonderful, with lots of little spaces, you could look out and see the gum trees – it was a fabulous place to work,” one of the artists, Judi Power Thomson, reports.
“I just walked around with my canvas and drew on it, she says.
“Some of us did paint en plein air [outside], but chiefly we took a few photos, did some sketches and then worked in that studio place.”
“They’re using it now for education purposes, bringing in school groups, but it was perfect for artists, with a little kitchen and toilets, and it was lovely and quiet to be with the birds and trees.”
The artists, all Canberrans, didn’t live there but the space was given to them for their painting and they took turns, coming in for about two weeks at a time.
As the exhibition shows, each artist had a different slant on Lanyon.
Vickie Hingston-Jones, for instance, who adopted a more abstract approach, has described her work as “a record of the rhythm of my days and the world around me… A theme of transience runs through my work, recording what will never be seen again”.
Annette Rennie said she had been attracted to the warm, dry colours of the landscape, adding, “I painted at Lanyon in winter when the light and the colours were cool and subdued”.
Linda Tawagi was particularly struck by “the myriad of shapes, shadows and textures within that landscape… tree shapes, some resembling sculptures, long shadows in the afternoon and the look and feel of the textures of the bark on trees”.
Dee Copeland, secretary of ASOC and also a guide for ACT Historic Places, painted her “Beyond the Gate” series “En Plein Air”.
“Whilst I painted beneath stately elms, oaks, birches and plane trees birds sang, the sun shone and the Murrumbidgee River flowed,” she said.
“It was the ambience of the site that drew me to wonder what other stories lie beyond the gate.”
Angharad Dean has made print-making her passion.
“I love the physical act of moving the ink on the plate and the ability to change each print to have its own special character,” Dean said. As well, working at Lanyon in the heat and dust and with the threat of approaching fires, opened her eyes to the isolation of living at a homestead.
Judi Power Thomson chose differing viewpoints of the homestead to create interest, as well as the convict huts, the courtyard, the gardens, the view of the Murrumbidgee from the café and an old gum tree on the property.
“To help capture the feeling of the 1850s, I prepared a textured surface on which to work, reminiscent of the stone buildings and stucco rendering of that period. This was done with a modelling compound and a palette knife scraped on the canvas… I feel the rough texture sits well with the stone, rock and granite of the homestead,” she said.
According to Power Thomson, ASOC has now received an email saying ACT Historic Places won’t be continuing the arts residency.
“I don’t know why – the building is just sitting there, empty,” she said.
“ Creating Lanyon”, Artists Society of Canberra Artists in Residence 2019, may be viewed here.
The Lanyon property at Tharwa Drive, Tharwa, will re-open after Christmas and New Year on January 7, Wednesday–Sunday, 10am-4pm.